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Creating a structure template

From: CSS: Visual Optimization

Video: Creating a structure template

As you continue to develop your CSS writing style, and as you start to work on multiple types of projects, inevitably you're going to come across some things that you've done in the past, and that you really wish that you could speed up the workflow on. And so that is why I suggest building something that I call a Structure Template for different types of design processes. So, when we're talking about a Structure Template, I'm talking about things that you do repetitively. Let's say that you're a theme designer for a WordPress shop. Well, chances are, you need to already have laid out a Structure Template for the CSS document that goes with your new themes that you create.

Creating a structure template

As you continue to develop your CSS writing style, and as you start to work on multiple types of projects, inevitably you're going to come across some things that you've done in the past, and that you really wish that you could speed up the workflow on. And so that is why I suggest building something that I call a Structure Template for different types of design processes. So, when we're talking about a Structure Template, I'm talking about things that you do repetitively. Let's say that you're a theme designer for a WordPress shop. Well, chances are, you need to already have laid out a Structure Template for the CSS document that goes with your new themes that you create.

And so, that's the process in which I'm going to walk you through here, creating a Structure Template for things that you do automatically each and every time you start a certain kind of project. So, for instance, when you start to develop a WordPress theme, there is a declaration that goes at the top of the WordPress theme that the theme actually uses to get some information about it so that when you install it into WordPress, there's some stuff populated automatically into the back-end. Stuff like the theme name, the theme URI, the description, the version number, the author, author URI, all of this stuff needs to be inside of the CSS document because that is read by WordPress and read by the search engine that powers the WordPress theme directory in order to list your theme in a proper way.

So, what I do is I save all these different structure templates in a folder that I call Assets somewhere on my hard drive. Then I have stuff like WordPress assets, I have Blog assets, I have restaurant website assets, whatever different types of projects that I work on, I save an Assets folder for it. I try to be as generic as possible. But in some cases, you do things so repetitively in a niche market that you have to develop Structure Templates for those as well. But for WordPress, you can be very broad about this. So, in this case, I just make sure that all of my information, my name, my website address, all of that information is all there, that I am included the license information that kind of stuff, and then I always start with the CSS reset, for this one specific purpose of I just want to make sure that it's there, and that I don't forget it later on.

Now, this is nothing big, there's not a whole lot to this. In fact, it's only 66 lines of code. But the fact of the matter is these are 66 lines that I don't have to write each and every time I start developing a WordPress theme. Now, I could come in, and I could make up my own table of contents, start writing things after that, I can even come up with my own basic structure for a WordPress theme if I chose to do so, like I wanted a left column, right column, all that kind of stuff, and that kind of falls into my next little structure template that I'm going to talk about.

This is a two-column layout. So, I've got just a basic CSS reset and some column styles basically to find. So I am using the Meyer Reset of course, and then down here towards the bottom, I've got two columns defined, Column A, and Column B, one 70% of the width, one is 30% of the width. That's going to be good for responsive design. One floats left, one floats right. You could change the float of either one of these depending on what the layout needs to look like. You can also have 3 columns, column A, B, and C, Column A, B, C, and D. You can do all of these different things and save them out as 2 column, 3 column, 4 column layouts, whatever they might be.

In any case, you're saving yourself in this case 70 lines of code. In the WordPress case, you're saving 66 lines of code, stuff you don't have to write each and every time you start a new project. So, developing your own structure templates as you move forward is going to be an important piece of speeding up your workflow. So, what I suggest you do is just go and take out a sheet of paper. Write down on the sheet of paper the things that you do most often. Do you develop a lot of WordPress themes, do you develop a lot of Drupal themes, or do you develop Joomla themes? Do you do a lot of 1 column, 2 column, 3 column layouts? What are your most common projects that you work on? And then of those common projects, what are the most common elements that are shared between them? Is it a left side bar, a right side bar, a header, a footer, what? What are the most common elements? Define those elements, come up with some sort of structure for those elements that's easily changeable like the 70%, 30% kind of thing.

I could come in and edit those anytime I need to, I could change the floats, you want to be as generic as possible with these things. And then once you have all of that defined, start saving these out to a folder, and then use those as starting points for your next project. I think you'll be amazed at how much time this saves you, and how much faster you get in your overall development workflow.

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CSS: Visual Optimization

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Justin Seeley
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